Stress, like all emotions serves an evolutionary function, that is, it is in essence something adaptive, something designed by nature to enhance our life. In the right measure stress is a motivator, it primes us to prepare, stress heightens our senses and awareness to optimise our performance. Without stress we would be consistently under prepared, we could do be able to respond appropriately, effectively and in a time efficient way to challenges.
Stress enables us to reach our potential, it a key factor in our success as a race. However, stress only enhances us if it remains within certain parameters, too much stress can undermine us, undo us, it extreme cases it can lead to both physical and psychological problems that can prevent us not just from functioning in an optimum way, but functioning at all.
One way of thinking about our capacity for stress and what an optimum level of stress might be, is to consider an internal bucket that holds the stress that we experience. When this bucket is about a third to half full of stress we are probably functioning in a reasonably effective way, meeting and coping with challenging. At this level there is still plenty of capacity in our bucket for unexpected (and stressful) challenges, which we can adequately deal with allowing our stress level to then return to their baseline.
However when the stress levels in our internal bucket go past the halfway point, we will start to experience some negative side effects of stress; including headaches, digestive problems, sleep disturbance, relationship problems, anxiety and depression.
When our bucket is fuller we have less capacity for the unexpected, meaning that we can think less clearly and cope less well. When stress levels rise too high and our bucket overflows we become vulnerable to more unpleasant psychological problems including panic attacks. When you hear that someone has had a ‘break down’ it is safe to assume that their bucket has overflowed.
To keep stress levels at an optimum level, try and keep the following in mind:
· Make sure your day consists of a balance of things that you WANT to do and things that you HAVE to do.
· Work out where you boundaries are (physical and psychological) and say ‘No’ when someone tries to make you step outside of them.
· Manage your own internal expectations, don’t expect more of yourself than you would of others.
· Pause to appreciate and enjoy your achievements; don’t just rush on to the next thing.
· Try to adopt a kind and accepting attitude to yourself, focusing on what you can do and what you do have.